APPROACHING THE BENCH: Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter hears from attorneys about a case in which four motels cited for prostitution- and drug-related offenses have been ordered to remain closed at least until March 13. -- Photo By Rosalind Guy
The owners of four motels shut down after an undercover investigation learned Wednesday morning they must keep their doors closed at least until March 13.
The Bellevue Inn at 1250 S. Bellevue Blvd., The Lamplighter Motor Inn at 667 S. Bellevue Blvd., the Royal Inn & Suites at 3685 American Way and The Garden Inn & Suites at 3419 American Way were closed Feb. 12 as public nuisances by the Shelby County District Attorney General's office for drug- and prostitution-related offenses.
A hearing on the closures originally was set for Feb. 15 and then re-set for Monday. Attorney Walter Bailey, who's representing all of the motel owners, asked that the Monday hearing be reset and it finally went before Environmental Judge Larry Potter Wednesday.
The Bellevue Inn, which also was cited for contempt because it previously had been targeted as a nuisance, was featured in an Aug. 24 Daily News story about prostitution that sparked an investigation by the Memphis Police Department and the West Tennessee Drug Task Force. The owner and manager of the motel, Bhagwati Patel, also was arrested for promoting prostitution.
For more about the Bellevue Inn and what The Daily News story uncovered, visit www.memphisdailynews.com.
The district attorney's office has taken the stance since the motels were closed that the Bellevue Inn should remain closed because this is the second time it has been closed as a nuisance.
During Wednesday's hearing, Bailey filed two motions, both of which Potter denied. The first motion asked the court to consider having the cases reassigned to other courts because it was "unfair to have every case in the same court."
Later in the hearing, Potter denied the motion.
Bailey's second motion sought to throw out the injunction that led to the properties being shut down because a hearing on the matter wasn't held within the necessary five days. But Potter pointed out that the injunction was signed by his court on Feb. 11 and the original hearing was set for Feb. 15, which does fall within the five days required by law.
John Campbell, of the district attorney's office, asked that the injunction be extended until the trial date and his request was granted.
After the hearing, Campbell said the motels would remain closed until March 13. At that time, Potter will decide, once the facts are presented, whether to keep the properties closed or allow them to open back up.
Tennessee state law states that the district attorney general has the authority to bring a civil action against any establishment deemed a nuisance, which is defined as "any place in or upon which ... unlawful sale of any regulated ... drug, narcotic or other controlled substance ... quarrelling, drunkenness, fighting or breaches of the peace are carried on and permitted."
During undercover investigations by both the MPD and the West Tennessee Drug Task Force, dating back to Nov. 7, undercover officers posed as prostitutes and clients and rented rooms on an hourly basis at the Bellevue Inn.
Also, at the Garden Inn & Suites, a Memphis police officer was shot Jan. 25 while executing a search warrant. A woman who was used as a shield by 35-year-old Albert Taylor, the man charged in the shooting, also was shot during the attack.
Since Jan. 26, 2007, Memphis police responded to more than 89 complaints of criminal activity at the Garden Inn, including robberies, shootings, underage prostitution and drug sales.
After the closings earlier this month, Gibbons said business owners should be put on notice.
"They cannot allow and encourage illegal activity like drug sales and prostitution to occur on their properties without consequences," he said.